CS about 9 minutes (while watching a movie with my kid)
Mel Taub's New York Times crossword
Half-Century Puzzlemakers' Week concludes with a petite 13x13 Puns & Anagrams puzzle by Mel Taub, who contributes the occasional P&A to the Sunday Times. I used to enjoy these, but then I got increasingly hooked on cryptic crosswords, which use some of the same wordplay (and then some) and which I find to be a meatier challenge. If you like the P&A puzzles but feel some trepidation at the idea of wrestling with cryptics, I encourage you to pick up a copy of 101 Cryptic Crosswords: From the New Yorker. That book contains a slew of small cryptics that are on the easy side and serve as a tasty introduction to this cruciverbal art form.
In case you're flummoxed about how the clues work in today's NYT puzzle, let me review 10 of them:
Congratulations to all of this week's longtime constructors! Many of us will manage to be crossword solvers for 50 years, but to construct for so long? I wish today's younger constructors a long and fruitful career in crosswords, too.
Updated Saturday morning:
Stella Daily & Bruce Venzke's CrosSynergy/Washington Post puzzle, "Eagle Scout"—Janie's review
As the Eagle Scout badge reminds us, the motto of the Boy Scouts is "Be Prepared." Which is something any solver, seasoned or tyro, must be as well. The title of today's puzzle suggests something that may be related to advanced scouting, right? Wrong. Instead, the first word of each theme phrase describes a kind of eagle—not all of the avian variety either. Be prepared, then, for the way:
This puzzle is HIGHLY [___ regarded] by me for reasons besides the lively theme fill and the associations it evoked. First, there's the grid, with its triple 6-columns in the SW and NE. Then there's the lovely assortment of non-theme fill entries (in addition to those words I've already mentioned). In conjunction with that mention of Jason and the golden fleece, there's a little "classic language/civilization" action going on with ERAT/[QED's middle], CICERO/[Enemy of Caesar] and SYBIL [Ancient seeress].
In addition to the flights of eagles, we get a couple of airlines in the mix: EL AL/[Transport to Tel Aviv] and AER/[Start of an Irish flier] (or Aer Lingus). There's also T-BIRD, the ["Fun, Fun, Fun" ride] that's named not for a less-than-vintage wine, but for a bird with a rich mythology.
Oh—and if you need a beverage to accompany the olla podrida Martin offered on Monday, you might want to have a go at [Café de] OLLA [(drink brewed in a clay pot)]. ¡Salud!
Merle Baker's Los Angeles Times crossword
(Cross-posted at L.A. Crossword Confidential.)
Well, this one was a little harder than last Saturday's but still easier than the Saturday L.A. Times crossword was six months ago. A standard New York Times Saturday puzzle may take 50% to 100% longer than this one, but hey, at least the tougher one's out there for those who want it, and those who are cutting their teeth on the themeless format have a more pliable puzzle to contend with here.
The word count (the total number of answers in the puzzle) is rather low: 64. The maximum for a themeless puzzle is customarily 72, and it becomes increasingly difficult to get interlocking fill to work out the lower the word count goes. If you're an all-star constructing deity like Patrick Berry, you crank out 64-worders without any compromises in the fill, but mere mortals usually have some uninspiring answers in such puzzles.
What do I mean? Well, look at the mini-theme (a mini-theme is a symmetric pair of related answers in a themeless puzzle). The 27D: Oscar winners' winnings are STATUETTES—that's eminently reasonable. But its partner is PRESENTEES (6D: Oscar winners, e.g.). Wha...? There are presenters, but does anyone ever call the award recipients PRESENTEES? This is ringing zero bells for me. There's an ugly abbreviation, SURG. (46A: OR activity). 35D: Royal office clues KINGSHIP, which is not a -ship word we see often (though it is indeed an inflected form listed under king in my dictionary).
A 64-worder tends to have less aggressive sparkle than 70- or 72-worders do. Nothing really zippy like a BAZOOKA JOE here, but the livelier answers include:
Crosswordese 101: There's a new twist on the seldom-welcome 32D: Playground retort, this time DOES SO. While each individual "playground retort" phrase doesn't exactly meet the usual loose criteria for what constitutes crosswordese, there are so many of them, and their primary purpose is to help a constructor finish up a section of the grid. From the Cruciverb.com database (database function available only to gold members), I gathered a partial list of the other "playground retorts" that have appeared in crosswords. You never know which one it's gonna be, so you have to work through the crossings to see if it's AM NOT, AM SO, ARE TOO, CAN SO, DID TOO, I DO TOO, IS NOT, or IS TOO—among others. What they all have in common is that they're two or three short words and the last word is NOT, SO, or TOO. Are you tired of these answers? If not, have no fear! You will be soon enough.
Doug Peterson's Newsday "Saturday Stumper"
(PDF solution here.)
Well, if you've been looking for a standard Saturday level of challenge in the themeless department, Newsday is your best bet today. Doug Peterson's is not too difficult but not too easy. Not a ton of sparkling entries, but definitely some cool stuff:
Among the trickier or tougher clues:
September 18, 2009